More on Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani
In the late 1970s, Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani was a student, studying
electronic engineering. But after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, he spent a
decade specializing in Islamic philosophy and law and became one of Iran's 350
ayatollahs. He lives in the Holy city of Qom, the center of religious learning
in Iran. Here, he teaches Shia interpretations of Sharia law to some of the
40,000 students who travel to Qom from as far away as China.
In Iran, Islamic scholars not only have influence, they control the country. It
was the first modern nation-state to reject secular ideas and rebuild its
government according to Islamic principles. In many Muslim countries, the
Sharia influences the legal system, but is not strictly applied. In Iran -- an
Islamic state -- the interpretations of the Sharia by scholars like Hadavi are
the foundation of the law. But there is an on-going debate. Reformers like
President Mohammad Khatami believe that Islam allows for greater social and
political freedoms than are currently permitted. Hard-liners disagree.
Ayatollah Hadavi's views lie somewhere in between. Married with four children, he holds
to many traditional Islamic beliefs about women -- for example that their primary
duties are in the private sphere of the family and that modesty demands that
they be covered while in public. At the same time, his own wife is a college
teacher, and he has hopes that his daughter will one day attend university.
Tension Between Reformers and Conservatives in Iran
It is in Muslim countries and Islamic States like Iran where decisive battles
are being fought over the role of Islam. Here traditionalists and reformers,
conservatives and militants are engaged in a daily struggle over who among them
will define the future face of Islam.
In 1997, the promise of greater social and political freedom led to the
landslide election victory of Iran's President Mohammad Khatami. His reformist
agenda had special appeal for Iran's increasingly young population, and for
However, the push for reform in Iran is often undermined by hard-line scholars
who still advocate obedience over individual choice. Over the past year, some
15 journalists have been imprisoned for challenging state policies. In the past
two years, 30 reform-oriented publications have been shut down. In April 2002,
a newspaper editor in the north of Iran was sentenced to seven months in jail and
74 lashes for what the government called 'false reporting'
There is a popular reaction against such governmental crackdowns, however.
Young Iranians spilled on to Tehran's streets in October 2001, when several
soccer matches turned into street protests against the regime. By the time we
filmed, a month later, security forces had clamped down. But the demonstrations
had illustrated the growing popular frustration with the rate of change.
Links and Readings
· Interview: Ayatollah Mahdi Hadavi
In these excerpts from his interview on ABC's Nightline, Hadavi talks
about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. by Muslim terrorists. Although he
condemns the terrorist acts and denies that there is any religious
justification for such violence, he says he is angry at the United States
government. He goes on to describe what he sees as America's distorted view of
Islam, his role as an ayatollah, the changing roles of women in Iran, and
Selected Readings from FRONTLINE's May 2, 2002 report: "Terror and
· Voices of Reform
Twenty-three years after the Islamic Revolution, Iran has become a political
paradox. A young, sophisticated society, curious about the outside world and
hungry for the advantages of modernity, Iran is caught in a struggle between
democracy and religious authority. Can Iran resolve the paradox of a theocratic
democracy? Here are excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with New York
Times senior writer Elaine Sciolino; the reformist Grand Ayatollah Yusef
Saanei; Iranian dissident Fariborz Raisdana; Iran's ambassador to Canada,
Mohammad Ali Mousavi; and Iranian Vice President Massoumeh Ebtekar, a former
student revolutionary and one of the highest-ranking women in the Islamic
· The Structure of Power In Iran
An overview of the Iranian government and political system.
· By Popular Demand: Iranian Elections 1997-2001
This overview of five recent elections in Iran points to a consistent popular
support for reformers in Iran who say they are trying to fashion a more open
· Iran at the Millenium
this excerpt from The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in
Iran (2000), the American foreign correspondent Robin Wright returns to
Iran in late 1999 to witness the social and political changes taking place on
the eve of the historic 2000 parliamentary elections. "Iran launched the new
millennium with an election," she writes. "The timing was appropriate, since
the stakes were nothing short of the country's identity in the 21st
Additional Readings and Resources:
· The Veiled Threat -- The Iranian Theocracy's Fears of Women
This 1999 New Republic article by Asar Nafisi, an internationally
recognized advocate for Iran's women, intellectuals and youth, outlines how
Iran's repressive measures against women have paradoxically made them more
visible and very powerful.
· Iran: A Country Study
An extensive overview of Iran from the research division of the U.S. Library of
Congress, including historical background, details on the 1979 revolution, the
role of Islam in Iran, and more.
· CIA -- The World Fact Book -- Iran
Statistics on the Iranian government and elections, economy and military,
maps, and more.
· Iran and the War on Terrorism
An interactive overview from the washingtonpost.com on the U.S. approach to
Iran in the wake of President Bush's "axis of evil" speech, which designated
Iran a "grave and growing danger" to the United States.
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